Many of Walsall’s faith communities will have opted for markedly different approaches to celebrating key festival dates within their respective religious calendars in recent months. The rituals of Lent, festivals of Easter as well as the Sikh festival of Vaisakhi were toned down or adapted to meet the requirements of social distancing during the COVID-19 crisis.
As the last of Walsall’s mosques closed its doors on 23rd March, Walsall’s Muslim community has had to meet similar challenges. Whilst prayers, worship and rituals will be conducted virtually, through Facebook groups, live YouTube streams and local specialist radio stations, the community are determined to continue their support of the local response to the crisis.
Mosques, cultural organisations and women’s groups have been at the forefront helping to co-ordinate the delivery of food supplies, collecting prescriptions and keeping frontline workers at the NHS feel thanked and motivated through acts of kindness.
Nadeem Ashraf, project lead at Walsall Outreach, says that demand has been unprecedented but so has the community response. “In the last four weeks over 450 food parcels have been distributed along with 200 hot meals. We are also proud to announce a new lunch club in partnership with the Glebe Centre, One Hope and the Afghan Welfare Association.”
Fahim Zazai, chair of Afghan Community and Welfare Association added: “It was time for us all, irrespective of race, religion or cultural background, to support collective efforts. We have increased our welfare rights advice support for those wanting to apply for universal credit and our members have been doing food deliveries and prescription drop-offs since the start of the crisis.”
Some of Walsall’s mosques have changed from their traditional roles as communal prayer halls to food banks and distribution centres supporting the Council’s Hubs. Aisha Mosque, located between the multicultural neighbourhoods of Caldmore and Palfrey, has been running an active community response team and food bank in partnership with St. Gabriel’s Church since the crisis began.
Mosques have also effectively used their internal radio transmitters, previously used to issue the five times call to prayer or broadcasting religious sermons, to provide essential advice on social distancing and hygiene practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, Muslim health care students (medicine, nursing and dentistry), sent home from university due to the outbreak, have set-up Walsall Helping Hands to support NHS staff in the borough. The group have been making care packages for frontline staff and been asked to assist in administrative tasks by their local hospital.
The holy month of Ramadan is often referred to as the month of giving, a time when millions of pounds are donated to worthwhile causes around the world. This year, however, the philosophy of ‘charity begins at home’ will be very much in evidence with Muslim-owned restaurants and takeaways delivering meals to hardworking doctors and nurses to say thank you for their selfless service for all of us - irrespective of our race, creed, colour or religion.